Profile

  • Route: Unassigned
  • Ride Year: 2024
  • Hometown: Richardson, TX

Why I Ride

I remember in elementary school I would walk around with a small, green, makeshift, cardboard box that had bolded white letters written on it that read "Pennies for Pasta". This program, sponsored by Olive Garden, in the past 13 years has connected with over 2,700 schools nationwide and has raised over $31 million benefiting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s School & Youth Program. I would maneuver myself through classes, outside nooks and crannies, and building corners to find coins to add into my ever growing collection. Though many were eager to collect coins to win a pasta party for their class, I became infatuated with this venture because I was angry.

At the ripe age of 9, I began to see how cancer was impacting families far and near. What fueled my anger? That same year, a family friend’s son was diagnosed with leukemia. I saw him since I was young, growing up, about to enter college, and how his life was turned upside down due to his diagnosis. A track athlete at the cusp of adulthood began deteriorating before my eyes. I saw the struggles that his parents went through to balance family life and his needs. I saw the struggles that his three brothers went through to keep him in a positive mental space. I saw the struggles that his extended family and friends went through pondering the worst outcome. However, through this hardship, I saw the importance of community. Given we all lived in adjacent neighborhoods, we began coming together to help them with their needs. Hope, is the word that came to mind. Despite that, I never really imagined cancer affecting my family and I beyond this instance. I was very wrong.

Though cancer diagnoses in my family seemed like a distant idea, its culmination was not. In fact, they weren’t rare in my family lineage. The first instance I became introduced to cancer in my relatives is when I met my Nanu’s, maternal grandmother’s, sister, who had breast cancer. I also went to meet her brother who had skin cancer a few years later in the quaint village in Bangladesh where they grew up. But my first shocking revelation was at end of 2020 when my uncle died from stage 4 colon cancer. I saw my family mourn. What was the hardest was seeing my dad. His oldest brother, thousands of miles away, died, and he hadn’t spoken to him in years and couldn’t attend his funeral due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. At that point, cancer and it's fearful culmination felt so close to me. I didn’t think it could get closer.

On November 3rd, 2018, my dad suffered a heart attack in which he had to be put on blood thinners due to clogged arteries. Almost a year-and-half later, he received a head injury which caused him to excessively bleed from his forehead. After going to the ER and having his cuts sutured, they proctored a CT scan from his neck up to make sure there was no ulterior damage. In 2020, they found a cancerous tumor in his neck.

My parents didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t plan on telling anyone. It wasn’t until an argument with my mom in 2022 that this news was brought up to me. I felt crumbled. I felt defeated. Again, I felt angry.

Maybe I was more painstakingly furious because he was my dad, husband to my mom, a son to my grandma, a brother to my aunts and uncles, or that he still has two sons that barely started high school, or that he has only one daughter that he just put into first grade. But it isn’t the fact that he had cancer, or that he’s in recovery, or the pain that would subside if he passed, that I want to ride, but that there were so many steps that could have been taken to avoid the pain and treachery he endured. I was mad he was being put through this. I was mad that a soft-spoken, reserved man, who at time didn’t know how to communicate properly, so he showed his affection through making food for his loved ones, had to pain through this. Silently. I was mad that I couldn’t do anything. I was mad that he was ashamed of this, that he somehow let us down. I was mad because I could barely recognize him.

As part of Texas 4000, I want serve as a junction of knowledge in communities and cultures where talking about personal health is not shared enough. Growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, I never had expansive knowledge on preventative diseases and cancers, let alone my dad who grew up in a rural village in Bangladesh. In fact, in many South Asian cultures the matter of mental and physical health are continuously dismissed. If I can be just one more person that can shed light on this issue, make someone change their habits, give greater clarity on how to prevent cancer, or even be a vessel of holding and sharing someone’s struggle and stories with cancer, my goal will be accomplished.

I saw those who died from cancer, those who survived cancer, and those who are still fighting cancer, and every single person had a successive pattern to their story: no matter what life threw at them they sought hope. This tenet of ‘Hope' is what I am taking into my ride year.

I ride for my dad. I ride for my uncle. I ride for my Nanu’s siblings. I ride for my mom who taught me what it means to persevere despite the odds being against you. I ride for my siblings who have exemplified what it means to show love and care. I ride for my teammates who themselves, their loved ones, or someone they know has been affected by cancer and other hardships. I ride for myself and the experiences that have shaped my outlook on life. I ride for all of the children in the world who have been affected by their parents becoming ill or passing away. I ride for all the immigrant parents who have turned worlds upside down for better lives for their children. I ride for all of those before me, and their stories, who took on this challenge. I ride for a better tomorrow.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for believing in me, and most of all thank you for supporting me in the mission of Texas 4000.

I would be honored to ride for you, your family, or any person you may know who has been affected by cancer. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at isam.ahmed@utexas.edu or at (682) 472-5789. Much love and forever in your fight <3

To Alaska and Further,
Isam